Phosphorous Heads

Lit by Atma Anur



It doAtma Anur At Workes not happen every day, to be able to interview a world-class musician such as Atma Anur. The British drummer who holds  participation in more than one hundred and forty records, a real war machine that moves nimbly between Latin rhythms, jazz, hip hop, rock and metal. One of the heroes of the extraordinary season of Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records, a breeding ground of talented guitarists from the 80’s to present day. Atma proves to be a musician that is open to ever more collaborations, one that is always evolving, passionate and generous, even for something like this interview. He has also worked in recent years with some interesting Italian guitarists like Steve Saluto, Marco Sfogli and Luca Zamberlin. I purposely left out any reference to his history and his records, I mention the names of Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan, just to give you some clues …


1) Atma, tell us how it was in NYC during the 70’s, both musically and personally. What are your memories of the “vibrations” of those days?

NYC is a magical place in general. Creativity and Passion are everywhere you look. I remember feeling like anything was possible, and I was constantly excited about life. I have rarely had that kind of feeling anywhere else in the world.

The best part about spending my teen years there would be the musical and cultural diversity that is a normal everyday part of living in NYC. I had the chance to see and listen to all kinds of music and dance, performed by the original artists, all the time. Latin, Jazz, Funk, Rock, African, Indian and much, much more.

I also began my formal studies there, attending the Manhattan School of Music and also frequenting the Lincoln Centre Music library.

Playing on the streets of mid-town and down-town Manhattan in different band configurations (from duets to 6-piece Jazz groups) was also a huge learning experience for me in the late 70’s. I met and jammed with some of the best musicians I have ever encountered in that situation.

2) In 1981 you moved to San Francisco. What differences did you find living on the West Coast?

The West Coast of the States is a very beautiful place. Lots of culture and music; and the music industry is quite alive there as well. The people seem to have a different approach to art and music than those on the East Coast though. Both coasts have a lot to offer (as does the whole United States) in terms of being an artist.

Atma AnurI was very fortunate to make some important connections during my years living there.  I had the biggest gigs of my career on the West Coast so far. I also made many dear life-long friends living there.

3) After playing and studying jazz for many years, you worked with Mike Varney, and his team of virtuoso guitarists, for Shrapnel Records. How did that situation come about, and how would you evaluate that experience? 

I began as a rock player. My first experience in listening and trying to play drums was with the music of artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Deep Purple (although my earliest memories of hearing music were Reggae and Soul music). Then I went on to learning the music of artists like Yes, Genesis, ELP and other popular Prog bands of those days.

I got more into Jazz after hearing Tony Williams, Chick Corea and also The Mahavishnu Orchestra. That led me to listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane… and the rest is history!

I realized that I wanted to do this (drumming) professionally and needed to really study music. That is when I started looking at music colleges and got my first private teacher. I began playing in church at a young age and also had my first band in NY at about 12 years old.

I first met Mike Varney through my relationship with Peter Marrino (the original Cacophony singer), Peter introduced me to Mike, in 1885, (I had been playing lots of musical styles in many bands between 81 and that point) when he asked me to join his band Lemans, (which was at that time signed to Columbia Records), Mike was their manager.

Soon after that meeting Mike told me about his then new project called Shrapnel Records, and that he wanted to introduce me to some artists he was thinking about doing something with.

As an evaluation of the situation I would say that life is quite complex and that things happen as they are supposed to happen. I am very thankful for all that has happened in my life. Living in NYC and San Francisco were a big part of my musical and personal development.

4) Who is the guitar player that impressed you the most during that period?

For me Tony MacAlpine is the most impressive musician I met through my relationship with Shrapnel Records. That is not to say that people like Jason Becker or Richie Kotzen are any less talented (everyone that Mike Varney chooses to work with is an exceptional talent)… but you asked about who impressed me THE MOST.

Tony is an all round exceptional musician, he sings, writes and plays many instruments on the highest possible level… I only know a handful of others in that category.

5) Here I have the first album from Greg Howe. I was only 16 when it was released, but I loved that album! You were the drummer, what do you remember about the recordings, and about Greg and the amazing Billy Sheehan? 

Atma AnurThe situations with those Shrapnel recordings were all just about the same. Very creative and very exciting. Mike is a true visionary and always brought the best out of the people he enlisted to make those records. Mike always worked very fast, and gave us all a short time to come up with the most killer music we had in us at the time.

Meeting Greg was excellent, he is a calm but intense musician with a huge musical vocabulary. His groove and approach to what he is doing on the guitar is really original and inspiring. Greg is simply excellent.

Billy is an awesome person and a killer musician.  I learned a lot from the time we spent together about “sitting” in a phat rock groove. I was most inspired by Billy’s tone, and his ability to play chops that retained the groove that they were a part of. That is an unusual thing for many rock oriented bass players. Both Greg and Billy are very supportive musicians, that makes creativity the next natural step.  They both have a very natural approach to time, I mean odd meters and so on. That record was great fun to make.

6) I’m a great fan of Ritchie Kotzen’s “Mother Head’s Family Reunion”  A wonderful album you made with him. What a fantastic record, isn’t it?

I made quite a few records with Richie and did loads of playing, jamming, writing, rehearsing, touring… the whole deal. Richie Kotzen was the person that I met through Mike Varney that I had the longest and most fruitful relationship with.

The Mother Head’s time was quite magical and lots of fun. Yes that record was awesome… but so are all the others we did together. We also toured with that band and that music quite a bit. The experience of making that CD was quite special also. We had a good budget from Geffen Records so we recorded tracks in quite a few of L.A.’s best recording studios… another great learning experience. Richie is an especially talented person and a good friend.

7)  I have a good friend in Krakow, Poland where you live now. What can you tell us about the music scene in Krakow?

The Polish music scene is just as different to the music scene in the States as is the cultural difference between Poland and The United States. Although the same basic genres of music are present there, the approach and emphasis are completely different.

There is a great love of Jazz in Poland, and some great Jazz clubs and music schools in Krakow it self.  Krakow is also a very beautiful European city with a great cultural history, a very nice city to live in.

There are many excellent musicians of all kinds in Poland., I have played with many on tour and also taught at music schools and given quite a few clinics there. My focus remains mostly outside of that scene however.

8) Do you have any special preparation before you perform? Or any particular method to help your concentration? Or do you follow the flow of your instincts and feelings at the time? 

old school atma pearlsI am a believer in good preparation, and lots of study and practice. One needs to have goals and work toward making them reality… both musically and personally.

As for shows I want to know the music well, know my part in making it a worthwhile experience for the listener, and bring something new and exciting to the moment.

Concentration is something that comes from focus and practice. It can be acquired and increased through practice.

Being in the moment is just as important as preparation in order to be true to the music. Instincts are gained with experience, both in playing and in listening.

9) I know you’ve worked with Luke Zamberlin , Italian guitarist of great talent. How did you get to work in Italy? It seems to me that it’s been a lot of fun playing and recording together. Italy is not a bad place to be, do you agree with me? 

Yes I do agree. I first played and recorded in Italy with Steve Saluto. We did 2 CDs together, with Marco Mendoza, Doug Wimbish and some other well known musicians. I was in Italy recording something for Steve with Piero Trevisan on one occasion, and after one of our sessions we went to a jam, and that is when I met Luca Zamberlin.

Luca and I stayed in contact and have been doing things on and off ever since. So far I have met some wonderful people and killer musicians in Italy (I should mention Marco Sfogli). I hope to continue to play there… and I love the food!

10) You’ have been a professional musician for a long time, and you have recorded an impressive number of albums, 142 by now. What prompted you to become a musician in the beginning? What were your motivations and your feelings about that?

I believe that music chooses those that are destined to express it. I’ve heard stories from my parents about my beating a small toy drum and dancing around from when I was 2 years old. They thought it was strange but also kind of wonderful.

As things progressed I found myself feeling a sense of personal responsibility toward music. It occurred to me that I had been given a gift and was supposed to put it to use. So I try to live up to the responsibility that music has chosen me to fulfil.

11) A typical but still important question, What is the most important advice for a drummer? Advice you would give to a beginner or a professional.

The most important single piece of advice I would give a drummer is that the MELODY is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE MUSIC.

With that in mind, learn your instrument and play musically with all your heart… all of the time.

12) I’m a bass player and a great lover of music of any kind. From heavy rock to David Bowie, from the amazing Bill Evans to Miles Davis (one of my faves is the In a Silent Way album). So, please suggest three records to learn something from, as a musician as well as a listener.

Impressions by John Coltrane

The Inner Mounting Flame by The Mahavishnu Orchestra

Sex Machine by James Brown

There are so many other records that I would suggest to anyone for listening, if one is looking for musical enlightenment and enjoyment… but you asked for only 3.

You’re right! I missed a great opportunity, next time I’ll be more careful. Thank so much for your kindness and availability, Atma. See you in Venice, I know for sure you’ll come back!


Check out Atma’s website for even more info, updates, music, videos and photos!

Interview published in Italian on Gene Master Volume on May 12th, 2014.


1. How did you get to know each other, and how did you come up with the idea of working together? 

Atma & Jani

ATMA: If I remember correctly, Jani contacted me on Facebook about the possibility of working on some of his (new) recordings. I had not yet met him but after listening to the things he sent me I thought it would be a cool collaboration (at this point I try to not play music that I don’t enjoy).

We spent a lot of time chatting, getting to know each other. We found we had many things in common and basically had a good time in conversation (his English is much better than he thinks… lol

Jani J. Szentkiralyi JANI: Well, back in 2010 I sent a demo of five songs to Mike Varney (Shrapnel Records) who replied and suggested to record the drums with Atma Anur. So I contacted Atma and sent him the songs, and from that point we started comunicating and systematically working on the songs and the musical ideas that came to us.

2. From which CDs did you know Atma before and which is your favorite one?

JANI: The first CD I heard on which Atma is drumming was Cacophony’s Speed Metal Symphony, and shortly after that Jason Becker’s Perpetual Burn. Both of these are reference CDs for me till today.

It is very hard to pick one, because Atma’s legacy is so wide after playing with so many artists. There are more than 140 CDs (Cacophony, Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen …… to name a few) and all of them are outstanding, but for the sake of giving an answer I will pick the Cacophony and Jason Becker CDs because both of them are close to my musical taste and heart.

3. Atma, it seems that you like Hungarian musicians because you are working with two great Hungarian guitarists at the same time, with the same name. Is this a coincidence or something more?

ATMA: The fact that they have the same name is actually quite funny… to me

I like working with good musicians, it’s really as simple as that. I don’t actually care much where someone is from or whatever may or may not be going on with them… other than what the music sounds like.

Atma Anur

With that said, I will also say that I have found many great musicians (especially guitar players) in the Central and Eastern European area since leaving the States… and that’s quite cool I think. Jani and Janos are both talented cool people… so what’s not to like?

4.  How do you remember your first meeting with Jani, and what were your first impressions when you heard his music?

ATMA: We first met in person at the Marty Friedman show in Budapest back in 2011, lots of good fun. Jani showed me quite a lot of Budapest and we had a chance to hang with Marty as well. I made a few other new friends there on that trip as well. Atma & Jani

As for his music, I thought he sounded great, had a cool feel and an exciting vibe. I like playing good music, I love Progressive Rock and Fusion, and I saw an opportunity to play my style and have a good time doing it… Jani also thought that my style would fit his writing… so it was a good match.

JANI: LOL ……. there is always a smile on my face when I remember the moment I met Atma. Besides the awesome time we spent together at Marty Friedman’s gig in Budapest, and having the opportunity to hang with one of my favourite guitar players, Atma and I also started mixing our first recording,  Canon Rock, and I could tell that Atma is an ENERGY BOMB (literally). He is so disciplined that he shocked me (in a positive way). In those moments I realized that I was dealing with one of the best of the best. He is the guy who used to go to sleep the last, no matter what time it was when we went to sleep…and he woke up first (a funny story I remember is that we went home from Marty’s gig very late, I went to sleep but Atma was still doing  things, then I woke up in the morning to Atma was mixing his drum tracks ……. hahaha). In this short period of time we also became close friends, and this relationship is still the same till today.

5. Which are Jani’s most impressive skills? Is there anyone of your previous musical partners who is playing in a similar way to him?

Jani J. Szentkiralyi ATMA: The best thing about Jani is his personality, he is simply a great person. He is quite serious about music and about life in general… I have a lot of respect for those things.

Jani shares a particular quality with most of the exceptional musicians that I have played with, that is Joy. Expressing the joy that is at the core of music is a special but simple element that I find in the best of the best…

I also find Jani to be quite open minded, besides the fact that he is a talented musician.

6. You are very busy and I’m sure you get invitations all the time to take part in various musical endeavors. How do you find time to do such projects and how do you decide to take part in such sessions?

Atma Anur ATMA: As I said before I am always into playing good music, my decisions are based on the music first and the relationship next. I am, and have been a working professional for many years, there is always time for good music. If I like the sound and the vibe of the music I will most likely want to play…

7.  How do you write the songs, how can we imagine the process?

JANI: We started with the songs which were included on my demo but I also shared with Atma all of my musical ideas, and from that point we shared our thoughts and vision. Actually Atma changed almost everything rhythmically….. lol. He’s thoughts and ideas are so brilliant and inspiring.(as we used to say jokingly: These Berklee guys think musically different ……lol)

So, we dont have a specific way of working, we simply just share ideas, thoughts and so on but, I need to mention here that Atma is taking part in the composition section too. On all of the songs he is a co-writer.

8. How would you sum up the essence of the music?  

ATMA: From the drumming side of things I can say that these songs have the groove and the creativity that anyone that likes my style will recognize and enjoy…

JANI: I’m sure that those who like guitar music and especially the ’shred’ style will love it. I feel that sometimes it’s a bit “progressive” influenced, sometimes neo-classical but we also have slow, melancholic lines and parts.

9.  How did Piero Trevisan come into the picture as a bass player?

ATMA: I met Piero when I first met Steve Saluto (Italian guitarist/composer). I worked with Piero on at least 3 recording sessions and also some live shows.

Jani and I were working with a few bass players on the recordings and I also suggested that Jani check out Piero for some possible gigs… So far everything sounds and feels great. Piero has a talent for finding the most groovy simple parts that fit the vibe very well.

10. What we  need to know about the upcoming EP? Will there be a sequel, any concerts?

JANI: The EP will contain 5 songs and it looks like it will be released by a Hungarian label. Sequel? Definitely. Yes, we want to take those songs to the stage, and continue recording.

ATMA: I hope to record a full CD’s worth of songs and do live shows of this music…

11.  What other projects are you working on?

ATMA: Right now I am working on a bunch of things with some European and South American musicians, I am also trying to finish my first solo CD and am writing for my second one… there is a lot to be done still to get these finished!

I am also putting finishing touches on my Theoretical book on rhythmic understanding… I try to stay busy being creative… I want to leave as much of what God has given me to do as possible after I have had my time in this life.

JANI: Right now I’m not working in other projects. I’m doing some studio work, for example I recorded guitars on two songs for Alina Alens (Romanian pop-rock artist).

12.  Which are the best three albums of all times? Atma Anur

 JANI: Speed Metal Symphony by Cacophony

A Dramatic Turn of Events by Dream Theater

1987 by Whitesnake

ATMA: Impressions by John Coltrane

Inner mounting Flame by the Mahavishnu Orchestra

Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix

13. What is the meaning of life?

ATMA: Beauty, Love, Loss… Peace, Anger, Music… Passion and Forgiveness.

To understand time and the basic human condition that we ALL share.

To make something useful of what is presented to you, and to express gratitude and joyfulness in every situation.

Jani J. Szentkiralyi

Life is about relationship… to one another, and to God.

JANI: Atma’s answer is so wide ….. so all I can say is that I identify myself with his answer.

Atma Anur Interview by Royal Northern College of Music Student (Manchester, England)

Many musicians believe the best form of practice is with other musicians, would you agree?

Atma AnurPractising, Learning, Playing and Performing… I think these are the most basic modes, or contexts, we musicians find ourselves in. These modes can be seen and used separately, but many times occur simultaneously.

Growing one’s ability to think and execute tasks while also being spontaneous and creative is the highest level for any musician to reach, and this is where the four modes come into some kind of conscious relationship.

 The correct execution of an action in time is the most basic level of practice for any musician, and this should be done slowly and quite consciously with a metronome (this is done to gain perspective). Correct execution is only a small part of playing music of course.

 Rehearsing music with recordings and in your band context is the next obvious step in becoming a better player, in this mode we learn about form, dynamics and groove.

 “Stream of consciousness” playing is also an important part of finding out “who one is” musically (on your instrument). This would be where you pick something to do with as little thinking as possible, and check what comes out of you. Recording these sessions can also be very helpful. One can experiment with sound and time and be creative in any way that comes up. I think this kind of “practice” is important and quite valid.

 Learning how to play melodies is another very important part of being a musician, and this includes all instruments (percussion as well). The “meaning” of most music is in its melody (especially ethnic styles), so internalizing melody will promote good sensitivity and musicality in one’s playing in general.

 Listening to great players (and even learning exactly what they played) is another very important part of learning about one’s instrument and how to play it. Playing with musicians that are more experienced than yourself and have better control of their instrument than you do is also very helpful.

 With all of this said, I would have to say that Practice and Playing should be one and the same, the time spent alone and the time spent with others should amass to help one simply make good music. All practice is good, and very important. It seems that the best form of practice would also depend on the individual’s goals, but for me everything I do is a part of my musical growth.

Do you sometimes find it hard to get into the zone once the red button is pressed and it’s time to record?

Atma Anur Recording The ZONE is simply the state of mind where control and creativity meet, when a musician can do what is needed, and more, at any given time. Getting to that “place” as a player mainly relies on proper preparation and a good state of relaxation (emotional freedom).

 Preparing is fairly obvious; KNOW what you are going to do. Have a mental picture of what things should sound like before you start recording (unless spontaneity is the point of the session). Relaxation is a bit more difficult of a topic; much of feeling relaxed has to do with the environment and one’s confidence as a player and a person. I try to actually focus on being relaxed when I play.

How would you deal with this common problem?

I try to be as prepared as possible, I learn the material and also give myself possible options for grooves and fills (in case what I prefer to play is somehow not working). Also knowing that you are there for a good reason should keep one feeling good about what you are doing. For me life has destiny and providence, I don’t really believe that things are random, so this shapes the way I see the situations I find myself in.

That perspective on life also allows me to understand that if I don’t “feel” the way I want to feel at a session… that may just be exactly what should be happening (not so comfortable, but a positive way of dealing with emotions)

How do you go about remembering everything you would need for a gig/session?

If you mean musically, I write charts, even when I know the music by heart. I find that writing things Atma Anur down somehow internalizes them in a deeper way. I also don’t really trust my memory, so I like to know, on paper, things like tempos and numbers of bars and so on.

 If you mean physical items… for me that has been experience… but you could make a list. List making is an important tool for achieving one’s goals in any field.

Do you believe in listening to as many varied genres as possible to become a better musician, could you give me some examples?

If one’s goal is to be a better musician one should be familiar with music in general, but self-definition is a very important part of life as well. Getting involved with music that one does not like is challenging and can be of great help in all kinds of ways (emotional and technical), but understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses is also important to musical maturity.

I think any musician really has to decide what he wants to do and take it from there. In the beginning that may include just looking around and seeing what’s out there… but I don’t think that works for everyone.

Excelling at a style usually takes a lot of discipline and dedication. This means spending time perfecting specific techniques and so on.

Obviously if you are the “sideman” type of musician (like me) you will enjoy mostly all styles and try to play them with passion and conviction… “do right by them”.

 I did and do listen to many styles of music, but that is because I enjoy them. At this point I do not listen to things that I don’t like, I also try to not get involved in playing music that I don’t enjoy (but as a sideman that can be a challenge).

Finally, how do you continue to move forward with your playing 

Atma Anurafter many years being a musician?

I can’t imagine not moving forward, there is just so much music out there. For me technique and coordination are absolutely a never ending endeavour, and my creativity never ceases to amaze me… lol


The new Tri-Head album is going to be epic: New Millenium Funk/Rock, as the description of  the making-of video reads. The Tri-Head core trio includes Atma Anur on drums, Barend Courbois on bass and Timo Somers on guitar.

Check out the rockstar drummer at work, recording the tracks for the up-coming Tri-Head CD, at Hillywood Hilversum, the Netherlands (February 27-29, 2012). Photo credits Florentijn Bruning, author of the Mona Lisa Project.